I have received several email responses to my recent The Value of Fear post that have been very critical of my position that fear not only is a great motivator but that sellers need to experience failure in order to learn to fear it.
A good many of the emails chastised me for suggesting that sales leaders should allow sellers to experience failure. Rather their position is that the sales leader should be doing everything possible to help sellers avoid failure in order to help them grow their self-confidence and that they should never criticize a seller’s failure but in all cases be encouraging and supportive.
The implication is that if one criticizes then by definition they are not supporting the seller.
That position, I believe, has more to do with Political Correctness than reality—and does far more to destroy the seller, the sales leader, and the company than whatever good some mushy soft hearted encouragement in the face of failure can ever do.
I’m not saying encouragement is bad.
I’m not saying that helping a seller to find some positive in failure is bad.
What I am saying is that protecting sellers from the consequences of their failure is bad.
Sellers need to feel the pain of failure and if we try to soft-pedal their failures into some weak, fictional success we’re setting them up for even more profound failures in the future.
Worse, we could be setting them up for the ultimate failure of getting hit out of left field with the disturbing news that they no longer have a job.
Let me relate a brief email exchange from the past week:
Me (to a sales leader who had emailed me with his disagreement with my post on fear): So all of your conversations with you salespeople are 100% positive even when they have failed?
Sales Leader: You misunderstand. They never fail. When they don’t succeed they learn something. There is no such thing as failure.
Me: How can you not discuss their failure with them so that they understand the real meaning of it, that is, that it is more than a learning opportunity, it is a missed sale that hurts them, the company, and even the prospect?
Sales Leader: It is never about failure. It is never about pain or hurt or missed opportunity. It is about a positive experience—they saw a prospect; they made a presentation; they learned something new. Talk of fear and failure and pain and missed opportunities kills the spirit and I want my people to experience nothing but good, to feel good about themselves and what they are doing.
Me: What happens to those salespeople who don’t have enough successes to meet quota? What do you do with them after they’ve missed quota time after time?
Sales Leader: Well, certainly there are some that we have to part ways with, but that’s just one of the unfortunate parts of business.
Me: So you’re giving these people positive feedback, telling them to continue doing their best and all will be good, never letting them know failure, and then out of the clear blue one day you say, “Hey, buddy, your best isn’t good enough. We have to let you go?” Is that fair to the seller?
I haven’t received a response yet from the sales leader.
Sellers need to experience the consequences of their actions—both positive and negative.
Sales leaders need to communicate honestly with their charges and that includes letting them know when they failed, why they failed, and what their failure means. Trying to sugar coat failure, trying to protect the delicate feelings of sellers will eventually do far more harm than good.
We grow through our experiences–all of our experiences, good and bad, success and failure, those we are proud of and those we aren’t.
Overly protective sales leaders need to learn to let go and let their salespeople know the real pain of their actions, as well as the success.
And ultimately maybe the desire to protect sellers from experiencing the consequences of their failure says more about the sales leader than the seller.
Connect with me on Twitter: @paul_mccord